Destination:
Madagascar

Madagascar is an island in the Indian Ocean off the southeastern coast of Africa, is the fourth-largest island in the world and previously known as the Malagasy Republic.

The island is characterized by its early isolation from the continent and India due to the prehistoric breakup of the supercontinent Gondwana, Madagascar split from the Indian peninsula around 88 million years ago, allowing native plants and animals to evolve in relative isolation. There are over 200,000 species on the island and between 80 and 90 percent being endemic. Consequently, Madagascar is a biodiversity hotspot; over 90% of its wildlife is found nowhere else on Earth. The capital city of Antananarivo (formerly Tananarive). These early settlers began to move inland around 600 AD, clearing the central Highlands and planting taro and rice. These people became known as the Vazimba, while the remaining inhabitants on the southwestern coast became known as the Vezo. Trading posts were established along the northwestern coast, and the influence of the Arab culture spread. The island served as an important trading port during this time, and gave Africa a route to the Silk Road. both the Portuguese and French tried (unsuccessfully) to establish settlements on the island. Between 1680 and 1725, Madagascar transformed into a pirate haven with such notable pirates as William Kidd, Henry Every, John Bowen and Thomas Tew using Antongil Bay as a base for their operations. Merchant ships were plundered in the Indian OceanRed Sea and the Persian Gulf by said pirates. European ships were stripped of their silks, cloth, spices, and jewels, while Indian cargo ships were robbed of their coins, gold, and silver.

In 1895, France invaded and declared the island a colony. During their ruling, plantations were built for the exportation of crops, and additional school were built with education becoming mandatory between the ages of 6 to 13. On October 14, 1958, Madagascar was proclaimed an autonomous state within the French community. This provisional government ended in 1959 with the adoption of a new constitution and on June 26, 1960, Madagascar gained full independence. After Madagascar gained its independence, assassinations, military coups and disputed elections followed. In a military coup in 1975, Didier Ratsiraka took power and ruled until 2001, except for a short period of time when he was ousted in the early 1990’s. In the presidential elections of December 2001, both Ratsiraka and his opponent, Marc Ravalomanana, claimed victory. Eight months later, following violence and economic disruption, a recount was held and Ravalomanana was declared Madagascar’s newest president. In January 2009, a power struggle began between Marc Ravalomanana and Andry Rajoelina, former mayor of the capital, Antananarivo. On March 17, 2009 Ravalomanana resigned and assigned his powers to a military council loyal to him. The military supported Rajoelina and called Ravalomanana’s move a ploy. The European Union, along with other international entities, refuses to recognize the new government. In the 2013 election, Hery Raonarimampianina was elected president.

​Madagascar produces about two-thirds of the world's vanilla.

The vanilla bean (or pod) is the only edible fruit-bearing orchid. Each flower opens only one day a year and must be hand-pollinated to produce a pod, which is very labor intensive. Madagascar vanilla has a creamy, sweet, velvety flavor that can be used to make dessert baked goods, ice creams, salad dressings and barbecue sauces. There is a wide variety of gems and semiprecious stones, including garnet, amethyst, tourmaline, and beryl, and the discovery of sapphires in Madagascar in the late 1990s was especially significant: by the beginning of the 21st century, about half of the world’s sapphires were mined in Madagascar. Mineral deposits include chromite, which is found north of Antananarivo and in the southeast at Ranomena; ilmenite (titanium ore) a source thought to represent one of the world’s largest reserves of titanium; low-grade iron ore, found in scattered deposits in the southern half of the island; and low-grade coal, north of Toliara and inland from Besalam. Nickel and cobalt are mined at Toamasina; the mine, opened in 2007, is among the largest in the world. contains smaller deposits of zircon, monazite, bauxite, lead, graphite, quartzite, jasper, gold, uranothorianite, bentonite, kaolin, columbite, and alunite. Although there are many narrow valleys and magnificent waterfalls, especially on the eastern escarpment, only a small number of them have been harnessed for electric power generation.

The Malagasy ethnic group forms over 90 percent of Madagascar’s population and is typically divided into eighteen ethnic sub-groups. The largest and most dominant of the groups is the Merina people, who are scattered throughout the island. The name Merina (Imerina) is said to mean Elevated People, deriving from the fact that they lived on the plateau. The second largest group is the Betsimisaraka, then Betsileo, the Tsimihety, Sakalava, the Antandro, the Tanala,  and the Antaimoro. Most inhabitants of Madagascar speak Malagasy, the national language, which is written in the Latin alphabet. Although Madagascar is located geographically close to Bantu-speaking Africa, Malagasy is a standardized version of Merina, an Austronesian languageFrench is also widely spoken and is officially recognized. It is used as a medium of instruction, especially in the upper grade levels, as is Malagasy. English is also spoken and its use has increased.

Madagascar has a rich and diverse culture that is reflected in its wide variety of culinary offerings.

Madagascar cuisine reflect the influence of Southeast Asian, African, Indian, Chinese and European migrants. French cooking techniques and influences are used in most of the meals prepared in Madagascar. Popular dishes includes: Romazava, Lasopy soup, akoho misy sakamalao or poulet saute a la Bordelaise.

The Austronesian, African, Arabic and European contribution formed a common basis for musicians and traditional singers of Madagascar. More than 100 musical instruments have since been listed as having secular origins. The ‘Valiha’ (zither pipe) and ‘marovany’ (a box zither) are the undisputed kings of traditional music instruments of Madagascar. The first is a cousin of the second, and both are played in most of the country as a legacy to the island’s Malayo-Polynesian heritage.

Landmarks and major tourist sites

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